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Medevac is about health not migration outcomes

  • 23 October 2019


'The thing about border protection is you've got to be consistent. You've got to be clear and you've got to hold the line. And the minute you show that you're prepared to crack it, well, that's when you start losing.' — Prime Minister Morrison, 2019 Yet again, the government is seeking to punish asylum seekers, with the proposed repeal of the Medevac law. The law was passed by the Senate on 6 December 2018. After the May 2019 election, the re-elected Coalition government sought to repeal the law and that bill is currently before the Senate.

A key issue is that the process is about access to health care, not about 'migration outcomes'. Once here, the person (called a transferee) is barred from applying for any visa at all. It is not an opening to Australian residence.

The Medevac law established a process whereby if a person being held at Nauru or Manus Island was referred for further medical treatment by two or more medical practitioners, and that treatment was not suitable or not available on Manus Island or Nauru, they could be transferred to the mainland for treatment. The Minister can refuse the transfer on three grounds, but must do so within 72 hours: 1. a reasonable belief the transfer is not medically necessary; 2. a reasonable suspicion the transfer would be prejudicial to security; 3. the person has a substantial criminal record.

If the Minister does not approve the transfer on health grounds, then the transfer would be considered by the Independent Health Advice Panel (IHAP). If the IHAP recommended the transfer, then it would go ahead unless the Minister vetoed it for security reasons.

Prior to the introduction of the law, the government had spent around $780,000 in legal costs defending the applications brought on to challenge the refusal of Immigration in transferring someone despite the recommendations and referral of doctors. Most cases were successful in the courts, so that meant the government had to pay the legal costs for the applicants as well.

Since the law was enacted, a number of people have been transferred and only one person was blocked by the Minister — a family member of a transferee. Despite this the government insists the borders are at risk. The Prime Minister stated the position of the government was not open to negotiation.

So regardless of the financial, personal and psychological costs to all those involved (asylum seekers, public servants, interpreters,